The Forgotten Prayer (a short story)

blue-city-ice-new

I watched from the crystalline platform suspended across the rift. Veils of space and time swirled for ages and fathoms beneath My feet. Through the sheer and shifting curtains of mist, I glimpsed the lab room, and the girl studying My creation with all the childlike wonder of discovery I’d planted within her. Those seeds had borne fruit. And what a joy to observe her steady self-awakening.

I felt His warmth behind me and spoke—though I need not for Him to know My thoughts. “For the first time in her life, she’s beginning to sense her place in the world—to see she’s not an extraneous part, but to realize she fits.” I strolled along the glassy bridge. My resplendent robe trailed across vapor and ice, swirling around feet that had trod the sands of time.

I glanced back over one shoulder, with human eyes that shouldn’t have been capable of beholding such brilliance—yet they did. “When I draw near, she’s beginning to sense my presence. She’s actively seeking. Her toes are to the threshold.”

clouds-light

A voice emerged from the light, bursting with greater force of power than a hurricane’s crushing clamor. “Our enemy has plans to ruin that. But we put it in her heart to pray that prayer. He will do what he does—try to rewrite her story—and think he’s rendered her ineffective.”

“While we pen a different ending.” A pang of bittersweet joy consumed My heart. She would soon forget the prayer, but as for Me, it would be My guiding hope for her life—My map for her future. A future destined to take ten-plus years to sculpt. Ten dark years in which she would muddle through—essentially—as if I didn’t exist. “She won’t understand for a long time, but she will,” I muttered, returning to the exact moment in time when she’d recorded that prayer in her journal.

January, 17, 2006. Ten years and one day until her first child’s birth, and three years more until she would shed the blinders of fear and doubt. This was her prayer to Us.

“Father, breathe Your life on me…cleanse me from within. As an unclean pot needs to be broken…break me and reform me again in Your image…” And it went on—but the heart of the prayer was there. My heart was there too, ready to be crushed alongside her—whether she sensed Me or not.

female-865110_1280

But I knew she wouldn’t sense Me again for a long time. Her prayers would falter. Her light of hope would dim, flicker, and expire in a puff of smoke and cinder. She would think I had abandoned her—or worse—that I’d never cared at all.

O, how wrong she was.

A few weeks later, she wrote in her journal again.

01/24/06: “Father, You nudged me back to church because of a crazy movie! You have not let go since. I am here at this point in my life because of You. When I say, “Lord, it will be very hard, but I know I need to change,” You replied, “Lara, can I not do with you as this potter does?” You have told me that You are going to do it! All I need is to trust You and believe in You…and You will do the rest! Thank You, Father…Thank You, Jesus!”

My lone tear slipped along one cheek and dropped to the glass as hissing steam.

One day, she would thank Us again. But before then, the enemy of her soul would shatter that youthful idealism into dust. He would shake every pillar on which she attempted to stand.

And there I stood, knowing the intense anguish that had been stored up for her, unable to keep those pillars from collapsing beneath the burden of her misplaced trust. Those pillars—degree, career, husband, and passions—they were never meant to carry such a weight. Not even one such pillar had the power to sustain her. There was, unfortunately, no other way for her to learn. We—and we alone—had the power to bear up beneath her desperate search for significance.

woman-fire-prayer.jpg

“The idols must fall,” My Father uttered in a whispered voice nearer yet than my own breath.

“Indeed…” And I knew the prayer’s answer would soon begin to unfold with greater intensity, even smothering the other desperate prayers she would weakly offer up—seemingly without any answer. The trials of her doctoral studies would graduate into what would feel like the greatest failure of her life. Three years hence, she would finally “give up” on that career—would consider herself a fraud with a degree worth less than nothing. “But before then, let’s send her a gift to look back on. A treasure to be unearthed from her journal at the glorious conclusion of this journey’s end.”

I sensed My Father’s approval. Moments later, the veil shifted, and We watched it unfold. A little vignette in a lab room. A visiting scientist with a story—an atheist even, telling a parable from My own creation. How wise he felt—and clever. A man who believed I was a lie as he uttered the words I gently coaxed from his lungs. And My Lara, she and I chuckled together at how I slipped her that message she later recorded in her journal…

01/26/06: A visiting scientist came today. In a conversation with my then advisor, I heard this visitor talking about something he’d learned from a wine connoisseur. Apparently the best grapes are those produced from a crummy-looking sandy/gravely soil because they have to “struggle.” The grapes in this environment have been documented to grow roots as deep as 10 meters! The visitor said that if you plant them in good soil and keep them well watered, you will produce a lot of grapes…with no taste! My advisor said, “Do you think it’s the same for people?”

Mans-eyes

“That, my beloved, is not just a parable,” I whispered to her heart. “It’s a picture of the beauty and depth I’ll be working into your soul… Though you won’t believe I love you for many years to come, I’ll prove myself in a way you can’t ignore.”

Biblical Fiction: Why?

adam-eve-snake-bible

Some may question the value and validity of biblical fiction. “We have Scripture,” they might say. “What more do we need?”

This is true—I don’t disagree that we could live with Scripture (and the Spirit) as our only guides—but, equally true is that we can have Scripture without really having God. We can read without understanding. We can understand without being inspired and empowered by what we read. We can learn about God without entering into relationship. Our minds can become numb in the retelling of familiar stories seemingly devoid of emotion and relevance to our lives…

a-sampling-of-biblical-fiction

Until an author brings some biblical character to life, sparking our imaginations to how we’re all really the same—all trapped in the same desperate condition. All sinful. In need of a Savior. Then suddenly, the far-off characters so easily condemned for their foolish actions are revealed for who they really are: obscured versions of ourselves—so that we, like David, suddenly grasp the author’s intent: “That person you despise… You are that man!” (2 Samuel 12:7)

david-you-are-the-man-with-text

In being plunged within a character’s point of view, seeing our own struggles reflected back, we can no longer play judge and jury. Instead, in sympathy, we feel, once again, the utter heartache of our sinful condition. We observe God’s faithful provision as we long for the saving grace only He can give.

I ask you: Does it matter that the details are fictional if the story draws us closer to the heart of God?

The truth is, whether we’re reading the Bible or Bible-inspired fiction, whatever emotional impact we reap comes from God. His Spirit is the One Who moves us to tears when worshipping, reading Scripture, or even indulging in a novel. I also believe some personalities are more responsive to creative arts. And God uses what we need.

book-animals-rainbow

Here’s the power of good fiction: It facilitates emotion. Expands our nebulous thoughts. Paints scenarios of possibility to be pondered. While commentaries present multiple options (Dinah might’ve been raped—or possibly not), fiction presents only one, which we hope is both plausible and self-consistent, as well as aligning with the Word of God. Fiction isn’t meant as a Bible substitute but can serve as a unique kind of commentary on what might’ve been. However, we shouldn’t be careless or indiscriminate. Instead, just as we test prophecies, sermons, and our own interpretations of Scripture—we have a responsibility to discern if any given novel is beneficial (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

My point in all this is not to denigrate the Bible, but merely to point out that God isn’t restricted in His methods. (He once spoke through a donkey!) Furthermore, Scripture can only save and edify through the power of God’s Spirit, Who isn’t above using fiction (my testimony—coming soon—a case in point). Finally, consider the difference between a narrative, objective account of facts (like a history book) and an immersive story, rich with emotional impact (like historical fiction).

The Bible tells us what happened. Fiction shows us how it might’ve looked and felt. And the Holy Spirit moves our hearts.

With that, I’ll conclude with a corresponding biblical/fictional contrast:

Eve in the Bible (Genesis 2:21-23, ESV)

21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

Eve in Fiction (Havah by Tosca Lee)

How about you? Are you a fan of biblical fiction? Or are you drawn more toward devotions and inspirational self-help? Besides the Bible, is there any book you can recommend? Or, if you prefer to stick to the Good Book, what’s one Scripture or practice that’s drawn you closer to the heart of God?

To learn more about this series, visit my page, “Biblical Fiction in 2019.”

New Year’s resolutions and Character Goals

The Importance of Goals

One of the most basic lessons in writing fiction is that characters need goals. Without goals, characters are aimless, plot flounders, and the overall narrative lacks drive. So, too, in life—as the heroes and heroines of our own stories—we give our lives purpose and direction in the goals we pursue.

autumn-direction

In essence, New Year’s resolutions are nothing more than goals to bring change. Of course, there’s no reason to wait for the new year to pursue a new goal, but for some reason that ticking clock—that inevitable flip of the calendar—always gets us thinking, “what if?”

What if I were healthier? Thinner? Richer? Happier?

What if I could overcome that bad habit? Get that degree?

What if?

How about you? Have you set any goals yet for 2019? Whether or not you have, take a moment to consider your life’s greatest dream.

How could that be translated into a successful resolution?

live-your-dream-beach-collage

Of Dreams and Goals

Before we tackle that question, we have to admit there’s such a thing as a flawed resolution (or goal). Most resolutions are born of dissatisfaction—followed by a burst of motivation centered around a desire for change.

A desire—a dream, a wish, a hope—not necessarily a goal.

The trouble with desire is that it tends to be passive. Furthermore, desires need not be within our power to achieve. Not only that, but desires and wishes—hopes and longings not fully formed in our minds—are often nebulous and vague (while a successful plot goal never is). In the section below, we’ll explore each of these issues in turn—and more.

deserted-soccer-goal

What New Year’s resolutions and character goals have in common, or should

(1) Character Goals aren’t Passive

Passive vs. Active.

Those two words might conjure nightmares about grammar, about that critiquer who won’t stop picking at a sluggish character, or about one’s own personal lack of motivation. By the structure of a sentence, we can tell if our characters are taking action, or if—instead—they’re being acted upon. Proactive characters take charge of a situation, whereas those who are passive allow circumstances to dictate the course of their days.

subway-passive-wide

I doubt many people think of goals as being passive—but rather, the characters themselves. However, inferior goals make it harder—even impossible—for characters to be proactive. In that sense, there really is such a thing as a passive goal.

For example, what if one’s greatest wish is that their spouse would stop drinking? Or that their boss would lighten up? Goals to get pregnant or overcome cancer seem futile for a reason. Like the examples above, they represent hopes not entirely within the dreamer’s control.

banner-possible-impossible-fog

The point is this: Just like characters in a book—we, too, need agency. In other words, whatever goal we choose must be within our power to attain. Secondly, our attitude toward our goal should be active rather than passive. When we don’t have agency, we can’t help but become passive players in the stories of our lives.

However, even if we do have the power to act, we might still be passive if our goal is inferior in other ways. Such as…

(2) Character Goals should never be Vague

Since goals are so important in shaping the momentum, direction, and personal stakes of a story, it’s important to get them right. One major lesson I had to learn before I could even approximate good fiction is that a character’s goal should never be vague.

Janice Hardy explains it this way:

“What makes plotting tough is that vague thematic statements like, “find love again” or “learn to trust others,” are great story goals (and good for internal character arcs), but unhelpful plot goals. Think of it like this: Go out right now and find love again. Um, you can’t, not really. It’s not like “love again” is something you can go get at the store. But you can act in a way that will help you find love again, such as go to a museum and talk to cute guys.”

Whenever we confuse the inner and outer journeys, our progress flounders. The inner goal—linked to a character’s arc—can be vague, but not the outer plot goal, which drives the action. So how are these two kinds of goals related? The inner goal—akin to character motivation—drives the outer goal. The plot. The action. Vague inner wishes are okay so long as they translate to specific actions.

So, even if we begin with hazy goals, we can’t end there. Instead…
→ The vague…must be made specific.
→ The abstract… be made concrete.
→ The broad… broken down into bite-sized steps.

directory-next-step

In other words, we need a specific plan of action. Something we can picture ourselves (or our characters) doing, step by step.

For example, instead of vaguely resolving to be healthier and lose weight (in what would’ve amounted to nothing more than a blind and/or random approach), I found an app to keep track of my caloric intake. My specific goal is to get back down to my high school weight by May 11th of this year. Without the app—which prompted my goal and calculated my daily target intake—I probably would’ve restricted myself too much, felt like I was starving, and promptly given up.

mynetdiary-dashboard

With the app as a guide, I can tell when I’m pressing closer to my goal—and when I’m falling farther behind… which leads to my next point.

(3) Character Goals are realized and refined in the context of SCENE and SEQUEL

One way to bring change to our lives is simply by being more action-conscious. How can we make good decisions if we aren’t truly aware of our choices? Like when we eat without looking at labels—or without any sense of what a healthy portion should be. Weighing in—if our goal is to lose weight—is all well and good, but it doesn’t address the real problem: our net intake. Certainly, we can measure progress on a scale, but a successful goal mandates changes in diet and/or exercise, as well.

choices

Here, the link to character goals is a bit thin, but consider the micro-structure of a novel: Goal, Conflict, and Disaster (in a SCENE). Reaction, Dilemma, and Decision (in a SEQUEL). Characters move through novels by way of action and reaction. Similarly, our example resolution (to lose weight), can be divided into two parts: Action and Assessment (which leads to Reaction and Reassessment).

Continuing our example:
Action = Eating and Exercising according to our plan. (SCENE)
Assessment = Weighing in to measure our progress. (SEQUEL)

Just as SCENE and SEQUEL drive progress in a novel, we need both action and assessment—both effort and progress-measurement—in order to be proactive for the long haul. Otherwise, we’ll end up spinning our wheels in one of two ways—either blindly acting, or else passively reacting to our poor choices.

success-equation

The ultimate end is to take actions that move us closer to our goal (the equivalent of plot motion).

(4) Character Goals are more or less Singular

Finally, as equally problematic as leaving our stepwise actions vague—or leaving SCENE or SEQUEL out of the equation—is trying to fulfill, all at once, our every desire.

For a novel to be cohesive—and a character’s motivation, single-mindedly sufficient to prove the stakes—one goal (and one goal only) must rise to the top. Otherwise, a reader’s focus—and likely their interests, too—will be divided.

When that happens, the novel’s trajectory grows hazy as the “story question”—equivalent to the overarching plot goal—frays into thinner and thinner threads. At which point, readers begin to wonder what’s truly important to the story; the overall stakes dilute; the pacing slows.

split-sign-direction

Likewise, we need to pace ourselves. Prioritize our ambitions. Avoid getting distracted with multiple goals, which could end up suffocating our success in what matters most.

Character (or self) to-do list for a successful goal (or resolution):
Agency: Pick a goal within your power to achieve.
Action: Be intentional. Not passive, but proactive.
Avoid Abstractions: Make your goal specific—not abstract or vague.
Assessment: Be active, yes, but also measure your progress.
Avoid Distractions: Start with one goal and go from there.

What do you think? Are you reassessing your goals right now? Feel free to share your 2019 ambitions in the comments below.

 

The Hero’s Ordinary World

christmas-nativity

When we think of Christmas—especially if we’re Christian—we tend to focus on the manger. The baby. The star. But as a writer, it occurred to me… the manger isn’t the beginning.

In every story, the hero’s journey begins in the ordinary world—his ordinary world. But this hero’s ordinary world is far from ordinary.

Revelation21-23

Light is a state of being for the wise prince, as ancient and unchanging as His glorious Father.

With infinite creative power, He summons clear waters with the breath of His lips. They spread out from the sole of his leading foot, perfectly still, reflecting a wash of pastels perfectly mirrored from a radiant peach and gold dome. With every step, spikes splay out like textured snowflakes across the water’s surface while a glittering mist rises—dances up to the pristine hem of His robe, such a pure white it’s glowing.

ice-feet-fish-sml

The warmth of His Father’s embrace is a constant presence. He spins one finger in the air and a thunderous waterfall springs up, etching angular stones as if it’s been grinding them forever. Green spreads out around the fallen stones forming the shore, a soft carpet of vibrant moss. Ancient trees rise, bringing shade. Flowers sprout. Every color of butterfly flutters—a moving impressionistic painting.

The scene is perfect.

All is Love and Peace.

waterfall-butterflies

In the middle of the pond, where the fall’s spray is a battering wind, He gazes straight down between his feet. Beneath the bright reflection, rainbow-colored fish dart. Beneath the fish, algae grows up from blocky stones and sways in unseen currents.

Beneath the stones, a tiny blip—a little pocket of space and time. Very small and dark, filled with stars and planets, and—more important than that—the crowning glory of His creativity: Humankind.

All of them lost in darkness.

lost-children

“They are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

He looks up and the thundering rush of water is a white beard—a voice. “To save them, you must become like them. You must give up your powers, your title, and live like a man. Submit yourself fully to Me, as if we are not equals…

php2_5-7

“Instead of growing trees with a single thought, you will toil and labor, shaping wood by grinding the rough edges to dust, which in turn will raise blisters in your tender flesh. Instead of perfect harmony and love, you’ll be surrounded by those who hate you. Sweat and dirt and pain prevail in the fallen world, as you know.”

“Because it’s under a curse…a curse I can break.”

“At great cost.”

The prince paces on air because the pond is gone—the waterfall silent. Instead, its thundering pulses in his head. He sees…all. Every child born into sin—yet precious. Every tear streaking their dirty faces. They don’t all see the dirt—but He does. They don’t see their worth—but He does.

lion-man-sml

He built His own worth into them.

He counts the cost. The thorns, the metal beads ripping his flesh. The utter rejection by God and man. The betrayal…

The nails digging in and torturing his nerves in a body capable of death. It’s his vehicle to carry all the sins of the world to Satan’s lair and leave them there.

“I bind myself to this course… Our love will cover their multitude of sins.”

“And so shall it be.”

Luke2-7

Disclaimer: I took creative license in creating this scenario. More than trying to be 100% accurate in every respect, I hoped to inspire awe for Jesus’s willingness to give up everything in pursuit of me and you.

Blackboard

Guess what. It’s my birthday.

And today, I have a special treat for you. A sneak peek into Yaasha Moriah’s amazing novella, Wings Beneath Water. Two whole chapters! Because why wouldn’t someone who’s passionate about stories want to share one of their favorite reads of all time on their birthday???

Blackboard

In my Goodreads review, I said this about Wings Beneath Water: “[It’s a] poignant story about truth, sacrifice, and brotherly love. Absolutely amazing: 5+ stars.” If you know me at all, then you know I don’t say such things lightly. Honestly, I can think of no better birthday present than for you to read to the end of this preview and tell me what you most enjoyed.

And of course I would be doubly ecstatic if you loved these two chapters enough to buy the book. But I think I’ve already said enough. Read the blurb or not—it doesn’t matter. The beginning speaks for itself.

Back-Cover Blurb

“They say if you see wings beneath the water, you get a second chance to live.”

CoverBrother. Ever since Risha was found on the shores of the river and adopted into the tribe, he and his brother Uraun have been inseparable. But when a neighboring tribe ignites war, killing the boys’ father, their lives start on a path that begins to divide them.

Siyeen. As the tribe goes to war, Risha’s gift awakens. He is the Siyeen, capable of reading a person’s true nature—and in Uraun’s nature, he reads only vengeance.

Fearing that his gift will endanger Uraun, Risha flees to the marshes. To save his brother’s soul, Risha must learn the secrets of the first Siyeen and seek the redemption that will grant his brother a second chance.

In this detail-rich tribal fantasy, author Yaasha Moriah asks questions about the nature of truth, brotherhood, and redemption.

CHAPTER ONE

DEEP WATERS

They say if you see wings beneath the water, you get a second chance to live. If that is true, I may live yet. If it is not true, my blood will stain these waters within moments.

The marsh mists swirl around me like transparent hands, chilling the sweat on my forehead as my footsteps explode through the murky waters. I pause, catch a gnarled branch, and lean gasping over it.

The surface of the dark waters shows the face of a boy, with round cheeks and frightened purple eyes. Will the Karagi have mercy if they see me as a child?

No. They know what I am, and they will not waver. They will remain at a safe distance, and shoot to kill. They are master bowmen. I should know. They trained me.

That was before they knew what I am.

According to the wise woman, some say it only happens when you are born in the marshes on a moonless night. Others say that it begins when a child looks into the waters and, unknown to him, the Siyeen looks back at him from beneath the surface of the waters. Still others say it is a gift given to the one who seeks truth above all else.

If a gift results in your death, is it not a curse instead?

WBW_FirstLine

I have lingered too long. Even as I move, some instinctive twitch saves me, for a death-breeze fans my chin and a crimson ribbon opens across my collar-bone, the warning of a razor-sharp arrowhead.

I turn, and they are there, emerging like ghosts from the mist, their long dark hair loose around their lean faces, their leather vests leaving bare their muscled shoulders. Emotions stab my stomach, for Uraun leads them, the scar upon his right cheek lit in silver by the wavering moon.

“A child?” one hunter asks, glancing quickly at the foremost of the men.

“It is an illusion,” Uraun says darkly, and draws his shaft to the corner of his lips.

I cannot outrun his arrow. I have watched too many times the stumble of a woodland buck, stricken while in mid-flight by Uraun’s skill. I am also tired, too tired. This hunt has taken all my strength, all my heart.

How do you run away from someone you love?

fishing-warrior-wide-quote-WBW

“Uraun.” My voice carries across the waters. “Please.”

So long as he holds his breath, he will not shoot. Experienced archers release only at the exhalation.

I stand upon a small hillock of marsh weeds. The waters beyond my feet ripple like black silk, for I have come to the edge of the deeper waters, where the bottom is invisible and the feet find no purchase. Many things that have been lost to the deep marshes.

“Uraun,” I say again. The corner of my vision snags upon something, a glimmer in the water, like light reflecting upon an outstretched wing.

It is here.

Then Uraun’s jaw tightens, and, plunging, I give myself to the waters. The arrow’s shaft pierces my side and my instinctive gasp fills my mouth with liquid darkness.

Something smooth slides beneath my grasping fingers, then jaws clamp around my ankle and pull me downward, deep. I struggle, panic-stricken. Have I misunderstood? Did I see a wing, or only the glitter of a marsh eel’s serpentine body?

I spiral downward until my mind becomes as dark as the waters around me and my breath burns and explodes in my head. Then light births, broadens, shimmers, and I rush toward it. Am I swimming down? Or up? I cannot tell.

That is when I see the face staring back at me from the other side of the water.

My face.

I know it is my face because only I among the Karagi possess eyes the color of wild irises. It is the mark of my separation.

WBW_SiyeenIsFeared

CHAPTER TWO

REFLECTIONS

I turn from the water’s edge where I have laid my woven trap under the surface. Strange. I thought I saw a face in the waters, my own face, but leaner and more angular, an adult face clouded with scarlet from a wounded side.

“Risha!” My mother calls. “Come say goodbye to your father.”

I do not want to say goodbye to my father, but goodbyes are inevitable.

I wade ashore and jog barefooted from the tributary, up the hill, past our dome-shaped hut of woven wood and dried river clay and descend the rocky slope. My father waits by the glass-gray river near the long boat, in which other men have already taken up their paddles and await the last of their companions to join them.

My father goes to trade upriver with the neighboring tribes, a gesture of goodwill. It is a journey made only a few times a year, and it keeps a tenuous peace amongst the People of the River. My father kneels to kiss Uraun’s forehead, then mine.

“Take care of your brother,” he tells each of us. I do not need telling. Uraun and I are inseparable, and have been since the day my mother found me as an infant at the edge of the marshes, abandoned. Were it not for my eyes, Uraun and I could be twins, for we have the same raven hair and brown skin.

longboats

My father steps into the long boat with the sure-footedness of a man long acquainted with the roll of the water. He sits with the other traders, and raises a long paddle that dips soundlessly, then rises silver from the waters, then dips again, as the craft glides into the current and toils upriver. Two other Karagi longboats join his, staggered a little behind in a V formation like the migrating geese of autumn.

My father lifts his hand, touching two fingers to his heart, his lips, his forehead, then raising them in the traditional farewell. It is the sign of truth, truth buried in the heart, spoken from the lips, treasured in the mind. It is the sign of our people.

My father’s deep voice carries over the water. “Seek truth always.”

“And the truth will preserve you,” the watching families reply as one.

That is when I see it, a vision that jars me from reality. In the marred reflection, every man in the boats lies dead, twisted limbs dangling over the sides, half-closed eyes frozen. Even my father.

Indian-boat-cropped-quote

My gaze startles up from the waters. The men in the longboats are living, but the men in the reflection remain dead.

I do not know what to do, so I am silent, but my flesh quivers.

Uraun thinks that I am weeping and touches my shoulder. I turn my face from him, for if he sees my horror, he will ask questions I do not know how to answer.

Five days later, the river returns our men.

Every one of them has been slain, and some still carry Sarudi arrows in their bodies. When Uraun and I hear the ululating wails of the women, we abandon our quest for duck eggs in the shallows and scramble toward the faster water. But father’s brother sees us and runs toward us.

“No!” he says in a tone that slaps us both across the face. “Go to your hut.”

He sees the protest in our faces, but his stance is firm, his tearless eyes smoldering, and he is an elder. We go to the hut, our skin rippling with fear and do not speak.

We know.

We learn later that every warrior’s face has been slit from ear to lip, a sign of a warrior utterly defeated. For the living, it is a permanent mark of shame and no feats of bravery can wipe away the stigma of that disfigurement of defeat. For the dead, it is a mark of an enemy’s utter contempt to dishonor a warrior’s valiant acts in life by smearing his honor after death. Such a cowardly act is beyond comprehension among the People of the River. The Sarudi have not only become bold, but they have lost their honor. An enemy without honor is a fearsome thing.

enemy-without-honor-feather

It is customary for the grieving to wash their hands and faces, and to paint black at their hearts, their lips, and their foreheads. When I bend over the water bucket to wash my hands after Uraun, I see my father’s face in the reflection, his eyes glazed in death, and behind him, indistinct with smoke and overshadowed by a sky like blood, I see the People of the River at war.

I have to close my eyes to complete the ritual of mourning.

The weak Peace of the River is broken.

The Sarudi, we learn, demanded a toll for passage through their waters, and our traders, knowing that the river is no one’s to claim, refused to pay. The Sarudi replied with arrows and spears.

Such a clear excuse for war demands answer, so the remaining Karagi men arm themselves and go to war with the Sarudi. The women and the old and the sick remain with a few choice warriors for defense.

My mother kneels by the grave of my father day and night, and eats little, too exhausted to weep, too broken to live. Her older brother offers us a home with his family, and his wife cares for my mother and coaxes her patiently to drink a little soup every day. Uraun and I cannot speak for weeks, and our cousins leave us be. No Karagi interferes with another’s sorrow, except, as in the case of my mother, to preserve life.

cattails

I often find Uraun by the river’s edge, the wind lifting his long black hair like an outstretched raven’s wing. His eyes are filled with pain. I cannot bear to look at him, and spend many days in the marshes, fishing with a net I have woven and knotted from long roots. The marshes are my solace. Some see only the skeletons of trees and the cloudiness of the water. I see the life of geese and ducks and frogs, and the scattered reflection of a limitless sky.

The Karagi wait, breathless and tense, until their warriors return from the battle with the Sarudi, victorious but with many dead. An uncle and two of my cousins are gone, slain in battle. The few prisoners that the Sarudi took during the battle float back to our village, mutilated horrifically.

After the funeral rites, a restless peace settles over the river like a damp mist. We know that the war is not over and some from the Karagi journey to ask the Haveddi for aid. Such negotiations can take months, we know, but secretly we all wonder if the messengers have been caught by the Sarudi. We visit the river’s edge every day to see if the Sarudi have sent their bodies back to us.

The war sleeps, but we know it will wake again soon.

Buy the book to read more! It’s available in digital form direct from Yaasha’s webpage here.

Book Trailer

About the Author

Yaasha Moriah writes speculative fiction stories that incorporate the painful, the beautiful, and the numinous, following the pattern of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, of which C. S. Lewis said: “Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron. Here is a book which will break your heart.”

3479857

Connect with Yaasha here:

 

Mineralogy & Petrology of Terrene

Blackboard

Today I have the honor of hosting a guest post by RJ Metcalf, author of the Stones of Terrene Fantasy-Steampunk Chronicles, which just released its second book in the series less than two weeks ago!

Here’s a quick summary of the new release before we get to the post.

Void Born

The bloodstone has been stolen.

Although the barrier remains, its stability is at risk. And if it falls, all of southern Terrene will be forfeit.

After the tragedies in Doldra, the valiant crew of the Sapphire struggles to regain their footing. Jade returns to Lucrum with the escort of Prince Weston only to find herself cornered by Lord Everett’s political maneuvering. With her freedom at stake, Jade is faced with a choice: give up her dreams for the future, or watch as those closest to her die.

Ben hunts down Victor and his mysterious Void Born with the help of Finn and his granddaughter Raine. The longer they are together, the harder Ben falls for the enigmatic swordswoman. But mad sages and ruthless assassins aren’t all he needs to fear—if Ben’s friends find out his secret, he could lose everything.

With Terrene at stake, they cannot lose sight of their goals.

Even with the past and the future pulling at them.

Void BornGet it today on Amazon | Renegade Skyfarer: Amazon or B&N


Mineralogy and Petrology? Say what?

Mineralogy is the study of minerals. Petrology is the study of rocks.

That’s the subject of RJ’s post and—given my background in geology—I couldn’t think of a better world-building topic to guest host. So, without further delay, let’s learn a little more about the actual stones that give this series its name!

Take it away, RJ!

SOTClogo-1000px

So the name of the series is the Stones of Terrene. But what’s so special about these stones?

Much like our own rocks here on earth, the stones are naturally made in different ways, but unlike our own world, the stones of Terrene are used for more than just paving roads and making gardens pretty. I’ll focus on four specific types, as these are mentioned enough in the first book to be memorable.

Gravity Stones

gravity stone

Anyone who’s read Renegade Skyfarer or Void Born has likely caught on to the fact that the best airships use gravity stones for their lift and even some propulsion, and they may have caught on to the detail that these gravity stones are now rare. That’s because the gravity stones were first found and mined in the mountain region north of High Doldra, where the Barrier now resides. Once the Barrier went up, the free-floating stones typically found in the caverns of the mountains were inaccessible to either side, and new tech was needed for airships, thus resulting in the steam-powered airships, “steamies.” I honestly can’t even remember where this particular idea originated from. It’s just always been!

Lightning Stones

Lightning stones

Okay, I confess that lightning stones were instigated by Stardust and the lightning harvesting. Mike and I had this sudden idea of: “What if lightning could be harvested in something as compact as a stone? How insane would that be?” Thus the lightning stones were born, and they have proven to be immensely useful in several walks of life. With the right application and necessary skill, doctors use lightning stones to jump start a patient’s heart. Dragon hunters use lightning stones with specific weapons to stun and/or kill their prey. And some have used lightning stones to stun fish in small lakes as a youthful hazing ritual despite many voices of wisdom cautioning against such foolishness. The stone itself is unremarkable when mined from the Sparkling Hills of Columbine, but dozens of these simple stones, when tied to lightning rods, quickly charge with lightning power and are sold for a fairly decent amount of lut. But these stones do need to be charged every few years, so they aren’t as valuable as the seemingly-endlessly charged gravity stones.

Healing Stones

Healing

Then there’s healing stones, which are not at all innately magical to any degree. These stones are rumored to have been discovered by accident by one of the sages of old, whose names has been lost to time. Whatever happened, someone figured out that a sage could use their own gift of bending elements to literally bend time into the stone, and if they were truly skilled, they’d be able to even bind traces of different healing properties. Some sages being more skilled in reducing inflammation could tie that into the stone, or others could make the rock absorb numbing qualities. It would depend on what the sage’s particular gifts were, and how adept they were in harnessing and pouring that into the rock. Sages of such skill are not necessarily rare, but the volume of what they produce isn’t exactly grandiose. To have any type of healing stones is a sign of wealth, having the right friends, or a simple fact of royalty. As for how they came about…well, I’m a mom of two boys. Wishful thinking!

Luminary Crystals

Luminary

And then there’re the luminary crystals. Full confession: Every time I see a rock-salt lamp, I think of these and I wish so desperately they were actually stones that weren’t based off electricity! Luminary stones are hands down, my favorite. They are just so pretty! Luminary crystals are popular in the entire nation of Doldra, and they are harvested in caverns close to Loore’s Landing and the western ocean. These gorgeous, shimmering crystals come in a wide variety of colors, and can be used for anything as simple and soft as a nightlight to something as bright and warm as a chandelier in a throne room. The lighter colored gems are much more plentiful than the deep, almost dark crystals. In wealthy places like the palace, there are full patterns of the deeper, gem-tone colors in the floor of the throne room. Balls and evening events take on a magical feel in Doldra with their plentiful amount of these beauties.

I hope that was a fun little bit of the worldbuilding! Which stone is your favorite? Do you have any fun ideas for stones that you wish were in the books?

About the Author

rj-metcalf

During the day, Becky is a stay at home mom of two active little boys. When she has ‘free time’, she enjoys reading, writing, baking and sewing.

After many years of creative writing classes, writing fanfiction drabbles and daydreaming, it was high time to start writing her husband Mike’s story. She dove into the world of Terrene and hasn’t looked back—except for when she runs out of dark chocolate.

Any free time not spent in Terrene is typically expended on hosting dinner and game nights, running amok with the two little monkeys or watching nerdy movies with Mike.

New to this series? Start here:

If you haven’t read the first book, you should check out the blog tour links here: https://unicornquester.com/renegade-skyfarer-blog-tour-wrap-up/.

And be sure to check out my contribution to the first tour.

Here’s the Void Born Blog Tour Line-Up:

November 9 – Becky Gaines – Book Spotlight (Instagram)

November 12 – Lauren Salisbury – Fly Into The Unknown Blog Hop (Instagram)

November 13 – Jamie Foley – Character Feature

November 16 – Laurie Lucking – Character Feature

November 17 – Sadie Slater – Book Review

November 18 – Anthony Avina – Book Spotlight (Instagram)

November 19 – Laura A. Grace – Fly Into The Unknown Blog Hop

November 20 – Lara Hitchcock – World Building Feature

November 21 – Amy Grace – Book Spotlight (Instagram)

Quote 2

“Driven to the Hilt III” : A Review

Blackboard

Driven to the Hilt: Tempered Steel. What is this book about?

In my own words…

Joshua didn’t ask to be kidnapped and transported to a faraway planet most people believe is a myth, but now that he’s there, now that he’s forged solid friendships and qualified to train as team leader—also known as “Assassin”—there’s nothing he wouldn’t do to keep his mates safe. With over a year of intense training under his belt, Joshua knows graduating as “Assassin” will be hard enough… But now someone is trying to take him out, sabotaging his team in the process. The question is: can he keep them safe while wearing a target on his back?

target-on-his-back

A Little Disclaimer

This could very well be the trickiest review I’ve ever written. Not because the story isn’t good, but because I read a draft, a diamond in the rough (as all drafts tend to be). I know changes will be made before this shining jewel sees the light of day, but I’m not exactly sure what they are.

So, today, I paint an impressionistic review… giving you the broad brushstrokes—and maybe a few little dots and daubs here and there—to impart impressions of what I most enjoyed.

Book3-an-impressionistic-review-with-books

Bold streaks of color: The Action Scenes

Let me tell you, this book has some truly epic action scenes. The cards are stacked against our hero, but he rises to the occasion, ready to sacrifice for his friends. Why should his bittersweet setbacks throb in our hearts with such painful pleasure? Are we sadists, eager to witness our hero’s suffering? Or perhaps his nobility inspires us—with a character kind enough to sacrifice for his friends… if that’s what it comes to.

action-red

Joshua is a humble leader. Uncertain as any young teen, but not without skills. And readers enjoy a hero who’s truly good at something. When forces come against him, what do silent witnesses say?

“I see why the [Drill Instructors] refer to him as a gameday player. His capabilities come out under pressure. Not just fast, but very precise in his movements. He took out two Combine trained opponents before being blindsided. Presumably, he has now learned the dangers of target fixation and won’t soon make that mistake again.”

Irregular splotches of paint: Teen Awkwardness

Wait—what?

Maybe it’s just me, but those of us old enough to have survived our teens might be more qualified than any youth to appreciate a good coming-of-age. Why should I find Joshua’s teen awkwardness so endearing? Maybe because he’s guileless and sincere, just the kind of boy any girl ought to like.

So how do the girls react to him—and he to them?

A playful curve formed in one corner of her mouth, “Sounds as if you’re determined to surpass my father’s record one day, what with all the records you’re breaking. Leading the highest rated Recruit team from JQuad, beating the previously undefeated Recruit sparring champion, destroying The Tube record…” She let the teasing implication hang off her lifted brow.

girl-smiling

Joshua blinked twice before focusing on turning his tall tea glass, “Ah, well, you know, it’s always a team effort and…” He could almost hear the blush creeping up his neck and desperately searched for something else to talk about.

But that’s not the end of the matter. Here’s a little excerpt of our hero’s awkwardness in training:

“You were only killed three times on that attempt, Mr. Joshua.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

“I was not complimenting you, Mr. Joshua. Being dead three times rather than five times is not something to celebrate.”

Black Shadows: Emotion & Depth

Beneath all the bright colors—variegated dots and daubs—there exist dark shadows… dim translucent brushstrokes undergirding the whole with depth and emotion.

Joshua looked forward just as they emerged into the Junction. He was totally unprepared for slowtime to kick in, bringing their progression to a crawl, deepening the hum of the steel wheels on the rails, his eyes drawn to where the tracks led straight on… The mouth of the waiting tunnel was an ominous pool of black that pulled the train towards its dark maw, eager to be fed. Joshua sat frozen, helpless to stop them from being devoured by their unknown future, the inky half circle growing ever larger…

black-hole-tunnel

Final Thoughts

There’s certainly more I could say about this third novel from DG Lamb. The new skills the Recruits learned piqued my interest—adding to the omnivision and tiny tell practices of book 2, the acting classes and alcohol tolerance—all aspects of what future covert missions might entail. I enjoyed discovering a little more of Joshua’s world. The descriptions inside the mines, in particular, took me back to my days of caving and satisfied, in the same way, that burning desire for exploration: Where does this dark passage go?

Besides that, what else can I say? I dare not commit the forbidden literary trespass of describing how it all ends… except to say, the book’s conclusion is powerful. In three words, it’s Raw. Electric. Energy.

So I’ll merely close with another excerpt:

Large red eyes locked onto him with ravenous intent before they slid under the surface, followed by a thick glistening sinuous tubular body that peaked in a ridge on the back, topped with a long continuous dorsal fin that cut a V into the glassy top of the black water. Finally, a flat wedge of a tail lifted and signaled the end of monster. It slipped out of view, but the silent roiling gleams of inky water marked the powerful push the tail provided, propelling the creature to where? Joshua shivered. The Water Dragon’s appearance had been startling, but its disappearance caused a gut-wrenching panic to rise and Joshua’s eyes began darting after every shimmering ripple—it could be anywhere!

water-dragon-upper

“Mr. Joshua?”

He knew that voice from somewhere and he knew he needed to respond, but Joshua could not pull his eyes from the now quiet body of dark water before him. There was also something else that was missing, something that belonged with this evil predator. The voice became more insistent.

Mr. Joshua?

Certain the Water Dragon was going to rise up to devour him the moment he looked away, Joshua turned his head toward the voice, but his eyes would not leave the water.

water-dragon-lower

“Josh?”

Drayev’s question broke the spell. He snapped away from The Swamp and was back in The Combine. With the transition came the answer to what had been missing – the stench of Stink Blossoms. With a small shudder, he looked at his large friend before refocusing on DI Betzee.

“Yes, Ma’am?”

“Are you alright?”

The DI’s loose blonde hair was a halo, backlit by one of the low-intensity lamps providing a minimum of illumination to the staging area in front of The Deep Six. Even though Joshua could not see her heavily shadowed face, he heard the concern in her voice. A low comment followed by a soft patter of laughter drew his gaze to the cluster of Students that was P-333. Perfect. I have to pull a psycho before the Aquatics capstone test and our first head-to-head with the Top Team on the board.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

red-girl

He locked eyes with Lorll, who stood two steps in front of her Team in the Assassin’s position. Unlike the rest of P-333, she was not smiling. In fact, she had been regarding him with almost the same predatory intent as the imaginary Water Dragon from Cypress Grove. Her body relaxed and she eased back into parade rest with a small knowing smile that held just a tinge of sympathy.

Her attempt to rattle him further made his steel inner core vibrate. Might as well own it. “Sorry, Ma’am. I was just having a little flashback to the formative days of my youth.” He regarded Team P-333, whose murmurs and laughter rose in volume.

“The reminder of having survived so many brushes with death is somewhat comforting, actually.”

water-dragon-quote-with-modified-cover

In the sudden silence, he saw Lorll’s eyes first widen a touch and then narrow in response to the hardness of his stare… “I’m ready to go.”

DRIVEN 3-book GIVEAWAY | Fall GIVEAWAYS | Blog Tour Schedule (by category) | Facebook Party

Facebook-Party-Header-Lamb-Andersen-Nietz-3-books-logo


About Tempered Steel

Driven3-coverKidnapped and brought to an unknown planet, Joshua Vernon must lead a team of diverse teens in training for deeply covert missions. As the strains of head-to-head competitions rise for the team, the risks become extreme, stretching his leadership skills to their limits.

All the while, mysterious antagonists maneuver from the shadows, some manipulating outcomes for their own sinister goals, others seeking to eliminate young Joshua altogether. Even with the help of his new friends Drayev and Sawyer, and the support of Dr. Calyse and Hobo, can Joshua survive this new adventurous world and its perilous threats? The demands will eventually exact a heavy price.

About the Author

AuthorDGLamb

Debut author D G Lamb, a clinical neuropsychologist, uses his understanding of posttraumatic stress symptoms to inject psychological authenticity and complexity into Joshua’s personality, creating a wounded, but endearing central character.

 

Learn more here: https://www.driventothehilt.com/